Archive for June, 2009

B.J. update

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Because they suffered another loss (4-1 to the Rays), the Blue Jays didn’t require the use of a closer Tuesday night. But if they had? Well, manager Cito Gaston would have turned to Jason Frasor, who has filled in at closer while Scott Downs has been on the disabled list.

The important thing in all of this is the fact that B.J. Ryan has found himself nowhere near the closer role since his own return from the DL back in mid-May. In fact, there’s a very good chance he’ll never serve as the closer for the rest of his tenure in Toronto.

So what has he been doing since coming off the DL? Well, he’s still been coming out of the bullpen – just rarely in important situations. We know he hasn’t appeared in a save situation, but he’s also only recorded two holds in 18 appearances out of the ‘pen (a reliever earns a hold any time he enters a game in a save situation, records at least one out and leaves the game never having relinquished the lead). During that same time, Brandon League has recorded four holds.

He’s lowered his ERA from a ballooned 11.12 down to 5.40, but he’s continued his command problems, recording more walks (10) than strikeouts (9). And most importantly, he’s basically been used in ‘unimportant’ situations. The Jays’ record in the 18 games in which Ryan has appeared is 5-13.

Oh, and he’s making $12 million this year.

Oh no Marco!

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Blue Jays have hit a wall. Or, to use my least favourite word in baseball jargon, they’re ‘scuffling.’ With a 4-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays Monday night, Toronto now sits at 41-37, fourth-place in the AL East and 3 ½ games back in the wild card race.

Monday’s loss was the Jays’ third in a row. And what has been a constant in each of those three losses? The absence of leadoff man Marco Scutaro. Not an absence from the lineup – just an absence of his usual productive self. The normally dependable Scutaro has gone a combined 0-for-12 with one walk during those three losses. To use a line from a former ball teammate, it doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to figure this one out. In other words, if your leadoff man gets on base just once in 13 plate appearances, well, you’re in some trouble.

Scutaro, in fact, has been ‘scuffling’ (shudder) for a week now. In his last seven contests, the 33-year-old shortstop has just three hits in 29 at-bats, lowering his average by 18 points, from an even .300 to .282 following action Monday. His on-base percentage, meanwhile, has dropped from .400 to .381.

Perhaps he’s getting a little worn down? After all, he’s played in all 78 games so far this season. Vernon Wells is the only other Blue Jay who can claim the same feat. Perhaps Johnny Mac gets the call tomorrow at short? Or … will we see Russ Adams return to that position?

Splitsville

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Here’s a look at some interesting Blue Jays splits (numbers entering action Sunday) …

It appears Aaron Hill prefers hitting under the artificial lights as opposed to in natural daylight. The 27-year-old is batting .341 (71-for-208) with 12 home runs, 39 RBI and a .929 OPS in night games this season. In day games, he’s posted just a .240 (29-for-121) average, a .295 on-base percentage and .683 OPS. He didn’t have much trouble with the daylight Sunday afternoon though. His first two at-bats resulted in homers No. 18 and 19.

Meanwhile, Lyle Overbay is the complete opposite. He has huge numbers during day games this season: .353 BA (24-for-68), .477 OBP, 1.183 OPS, but mediocre numbers during night contests: .235 BA (27-for-115), .353 OBP, .770 OPS.

The saying ‘home sweet home’ does not apply to Jays’ shortstop Marco Scutaro. That’s because the 33-year-old is batting just .253 (37-for-146) at home this year. Away from the Rogers Centre though, Scutaro is hitting .331 (51-for-154) with a .420 on-base percentage and an .868 OPS.

Alex Rios, meanwhile, enjoys playing in front of the hometown crowd. The 28-year-old is actually hitting over .300 at home this year — .307 (46-for-150). He’s also hit eight of his nine home runs and swiped 10 of his 13 stolen bases at home this season. On the road, Rios is hitting just .232 (36-for-155) with a .287 on-base percentage.

Perhaps the biggest difference when it comes to home-road performance is owned by Vernon Wells. He’s hitting a dismal .174 (25-for-144) with a .256 on-base percentage and a .555 OPS at home this season. Away from the Rogers Centre though, Wells has put up much better numbers: .321 BA (53-for-165), .485 slugging percentage and an .839 OPS.

Oh, so close

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Note: Jays lost a 10-0 laugher to the visiting Phils Saturday afternoon. Rubber match set for tomorrow at 1:07 pm. Moving on …

Today, this space is dedicated to Kyle Phillips.

It’s the least we can do after the San Diego native had his first call up to the major leagues ‘voided’ Saturday morning.

Phillips, 25, was due to report to the Blue Jays from Triple-A Las Vegas on Saturday after Toronto catcher Rod Barajas injured himself Friday night and was expected to placed on the 15-day disabled list. At the time, the Jays announced that Phillips would be summoned from Triple-A for his first taste of the major leagues, and that pitcher Shaun Marcum would be moved to the 60-day DL to open up a spot on the 40-man roster. 

Saturday morning, however, the Jays announced that Barajas ‘felt better’ and that he would not be placed on the DL after all. Good news for the Blue Jays. Bad news for Phillips.

It’s not known (at least not to us) whether Phillips was told he was being called up by the Blue Jays shortly after the injury to Barajas. We hope not – for his sake – because that second call (or conversation with Las Vegas manager Mike Basso) would have been difficult to swallow. At any rate, Phillips is aware now just how close he was to receiving his first trip to the major leagues.

He’s certainly deserving of the call up. In 39 games at Triple-A this season, Phillips is batting .338 (48-142) with three homers and 12 RBI. He has an on-base percentage of .404 and an OPS of .854. This follows up a year in which he hit .306 with eight homers and 34 RBI at Double-A New Hampshire in 2008.

Unfortunately for Phillips, the window for an opportunity to be called up to the big club might be closing – at least in the current scheme of things. Michael Barrett, who was penciled in as the Jays’ No. 2 catcher at the beginning of the season, is expected to be healthy enough to return to the big club in a matter of weeks.

Here’s hoping Phillips gets a shot at some point …

Hitting the turf running

Friday, June 26, 2009

Pinch hitting in The 500 Level today is Allen Ford, a former member of the grounds crew at old Exhibition Stadium (also affectionately referred to as ‘the mistake by the lake’). Today he shares the story of his first day on the job …

Working for a professional sports team is like a night with Meagan Fox: at the end of the day it’s not the job, but the stories you can tell afterwards.

So when The 500 Level asked me if I wanted to blog about my time as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays grounds crew, well, they had me at Allen.

From 1985 to 87, I was on the grounds crew for the Toronto Blue Jays.  That’s 162 games of major league baseball up close and personal. And though the trade of Tony Fernandez and Fred McGriff would later serve as my divorce from baseball, for those two years down at the ‘Ex’ I might as well have been playing ball in a cornfield in Iowa.

And like Kevin Costner’s first swing to Shoeless Joe Jackson in ‘Field of Dreams’, my first day at Exhibition Stadium was as equally and unequivocally embarrassing.

For the home opener in ‘85, I wasn’t actually a member of the grounds crew yet. It would be a few weeks into the season before I got the official call up to the ‘crew’. My start then, as a 17-year-old, was as a lowly runner, a gopher, ferrying messages and packages within the stadium.

However, on this day I didn’t have to make one delivery. The Blue Jays clubhouse crew were short a ball boy for the home bullpen and, through some stroke of luck, I got the tap on the shoulder to report to the clubhouse, grab a glove and get out on the field.

Now, what you have to realize is that this was my FIRST day on the inside of Exhibition Stadium. Before this, my view was often from the blue plastic seats in the Grandstands. And yet there I was making my way through the corridors to field level.

One last turn and all of a sudden the energy and buzz of the home opener was right there. There were the players soft tossing in front of the dugout. There was Fergie Olver, a mainstay of the CTV baseball telecasts, who, in hindsight, must have been the influence for Stephen Harper’s freeze-dried hairdo.

Standing next to the dugout, I was given my instructions:  Head to the Blue Jays bullpen and toss a ball to Lloyd Moseby so he could warm up with Jesse Barfield. Then toss a ball to George Bell and play catch with him so he could loosen up.

So let me stop right here and make sure you REALLY understand what the hell was going on:

This was my FIRST day on the job. This was my FIRST time on the field. And, perhaps most importantly, this was the FIRST time I had picked up a glove and ball since the previous October. And they want me to play catch with George Bell.

Right.

I walked up past the Blue Jays dugout and along the third base line trying to be as nonchalant as I could be. But how the hell could I be? This was the home opener and I am not in the stands but on the field!

I get to the bullpen, take a seat on the bench and wait for my cue.

Murray Eldon’s voice booms across the stadium.

“Your right fielder….Jeeeeessseee Baaarfield.”

Out comes number 29.  Lloyd’s next. Oh shit.

“The centre-fielder….Lloooooyd Mooooseby!”

Lloyd comes running out. As he gets passed the infield and heads into shallow centre, I throw him a ball. Or I should say, I launch a ball. To this day, I have never thrown a ball further. It sails completely over Lloyd’s head.

Now don’t get me wrong, I do not have a strong arm. Yet at that moment the adrenalin and nerves seemed to transform me. With the ball rolling to the centre field wall, bullpen coach John Sullivan tossed me a second ball. Another shot at redemption, but instead I let loose another moon shot that again goes completely over Lloyd’s head.

But forget about Lloyd, Murray Eldon’s voice is in the air again.

“And the left fielder…Geeeoooorge Bell!”

Now, I am well and truly about to shit my pants. Not only do I have to throw to George, I am going to have to catch what he throws back to me. I mean, I haven’t even thrown a ball in five months and I am standing on a major league field and about to play catch with a future American League MVP.

As it turns out though, I had nothing to worry about.

Another moon shot is launched and the ball sails over Bell into centre-field.

John Sullivan, instead of tossing me another ball, looks at me, motions towards the bench and says, “Sit down.”

Allen Ford now lives and works in Ottawa as a graphic designer and still thinks about Fred McGriff’s sweet and languid stroke.

Aaron Hill/Michael Young?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

With leadoff man Marco Scutaro standing on first base in the opening inning last night, second baseman Aaron Hill put the Blue Jays on the board first by drilling the first pitch he saw from Bronson Arroyo over the wall in left. It was the 16th home run of the season for Hill, and it jumpstarted the Toronto offense, which went on to score eight runs in an 8-2 win over the visiting Cincinnati Reds. The win lifted Toronto to 40-33 and maintained a tie with the Yankees in the AL Wild Card race.

Hill2Hill, who finished 2-for-4 with a walk, hit the showers with 97 hits overall this season – trailing only Ichiro Suzuki (100) for the most in the majors to this point. Meanwhile, entering action Thursday, he has a .306 batting average and leads the Jays in homers (16) and total bases (155). He also sits second on the team with 51 RBIs.

It’s been a highly successful year thus far for Hill, who was knocked out – literally – after 55 games in 2008 due to a concussion. But he’s done more than just put Jays management at ease by returning to form. He’s on pace for a career year (and may be rewarded with an all-star appearance in St. Louis).

Just how good can Hill be? The 500 Level has for a long time wondered if he might reach similar heights to that of Michael Young, the Texas Rangers second baseman-turned shortstop-turned third baseman, who is also, coincidentally, a former Blue Jay.

Rangers Orioles BaseballFor a long time (perhaps even still now), Young was seen by Blue Jays fans as ‘the one that got away.’ Drafted by the Jays in the fifth round in 1997, Young was dealt in 2000 before he reached the majors along with pitcher Darwin Cubillan to the Rangers for Esteban Loaiza. All he’s done since is post a career .301 average with five seasons of 200-plus hits, five all-star appearances and a gold glove at shortstop in 2008.

If you’re a Blue Jays fan, there’s a very good chance you found yourself saying ‘If only we had Michael Young,’ during the numerous seasons that Toronto treated the shortstop position like a revolving door. Marco Scutaro has put those days to rest for now, but, of course, it still hurts.

So is an Aaron Hill/Michael Young comparison a legitimate one? (that is, besides the fact they have similar compact swings). As we said, Hill, 27, is on pace for a breakout year. Let’s take a look at what his projections are for 2009 …

160 G, .306 BA (218-for-713), 97 R, 23 2B, 36 HR, 115 RBI, 41 BB, 104 K, .344 OBP, .833 OPS

And here’s what Young did as a 27-year-old in 2004 …

160 G, .313 BA (216-for-690), 114 R, 33 2B, 22 HR, 99 RBI, 44 BB, 89 K, .353 OBP, .836 OPS

Now, that is strikingly similar – right down to the fact that neither walks too often and, as such, their on-base percentages aren’t spectacular for .300-plus hitters (and their BB/K ratios aren’t great). But their other numbers are certainly desirable.

What we didn’t realize was that, should he maintain his current pace, Hill’s power numbers would easily eclipse Young’s – even in his best years. The 32-year-old has career highs of 24 home runs (2005) and 103 RBI (2006).   

Michael Young may always be the one that got away, but it appears the Blue Jays may have got it right the second time around. And with the way he’s playing, Aaron Hill may just heal all those old wounds.

The cost of winning

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Toronto Blue Jays entered 2009 with a payroll of $80,538,300.

In other words, every time the team takes the field, Blue Jays ownership shells out $497,150 in player salaries. If the club won every game, this would simply be their cost per win. Of course, that’s just not possible. So what is their cost per win?

Well, entering Wednesday night’s game against the Cincinnati Reds, the Blue Jays (39-33) had spent $917,815.38 for every win this year. That ranks 11th in the majors. The Florida Marlins have spent the least per win ($454,740.74), while the New York Yankees have spent the most ($2,290,682.78). Not too surprisingly, those are the club’s with the league’s lowest and highest payrolls, respectively.

What’s impressive, though, is that the Marlins (36-36) have just two fewer wins than the Yanks (38-32). As it turns out, seven of those top 11 teams with the lowest cost per win have records of .500 or better. The others are: Tampa Bay (37-35), Texas (37-32), Minnesota (36-36), St. Louis (40-32), Colorado (37-34) and Toronto (39-33).

Here’s the full list and what theyve paid for each win this year (win-loss records in parenthesis) …

Florida (36-36) — $454,740.74
San Diego (31-38) —  $   600,888.04
Pittsburgh (31-39) —  $   678,715.64
Tampa Bay (37-35) —  $   760,516.91
Texas (37-32) —  $   784,841.00
Minnesota (36-36) —  $   806,163.76
St. Louis (40-32) —  $   862,278.98
Oakland (31-39) —  $   868,518.52
Colorado (37-34) —  $   890,769.26
Baltimore (32-38) —  $   906,079.61
Toronto (39-33) —  $   917,815.38
Cincinnati (34-35) —  $   921,484.47
LA Dodgers (47-24) —  $   936,358.82
Milwaukee (37-33) —  $   936,398.91
San Francisco (38-32) —  $   939,433.31
Kansas City (30-39) —  $1,001,200.40
Arizona (30-41) —  $1,074,008.91
Cleveland (30-42) —  $1,208,580.24
Seattle (35-35) —  $1,221,039.08
Boston (43-27) —  $1,223,402.23
Atlanta (34-36) —  $1,229,272.26
Chi White Sox (33-37) —  $1,257,911.52
Washington (20-48) —  $1,266,143.20
Detroit (39-31) —  $1,275,080.75
Philadelphia (37-31) —  $1,281,994.52
LA Angels (37-32) —  $1,308,962.45
Houston (32-36) —  $1,351,033.20
Chi Cubs (34-33) —  $1,639,833.51
NY Mets (35-34) —  $1,817,778.68
NY Yankees (38-32) —  $2,290,682.78

Note: A hat tip to friend and former classmate, James Carruthers, for putting together the excel on this.

Blue Jays by the numbers …

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

With a 7-5 win over the Cincinnati Reds Tuesday night, the Blue Jays improved their record to 39-33 on the season, putting them in a tie with the New York Yankees for the AL wild card. Here’s a look at some of the numbers Tuesday night …

8 – Number of quality starts made by Brian Tallet this season. That’s eight more than the Blue Jays had planned. After all, Tallet was only forced into a starting role due to a plethora of injuries to Toronto’s pitching staff. Tuesday night’s quality start was just his second in June after going an impressive 6-for-6 in May. Overall, he’s made 8 in 14 starts this year, going 5-4 with a 4.20 ERA.

.332 – Batting average owned by Scott Rolen after the Jays’ third baseman went 2-for-4 with a homer Tuesday night. Rolen, who extended his season-high hitting streak to 12 games in the win, is batting .462 (24-for-52) with nine multi-hit games during that stretch. Just how good has Rolen been hitting? This .332 mark is currently second-best in the American League behind Ichiro Suzuki.

12 – Number of hits pounded out by the Blue Jays during Tuesday’s 7-5 win. That marks the fifth time in the last seven games that Toronto has posted double-digit hits. During that span, Toronto is hitting .291 (82-for-282) with 12 doubles, 12 homers and 43 RBIs.

3 – Number of stolen bases by the Jays Tuesday night. Alex Rios had a pair, and Vernon Wells had one of his own. Combined, they’ve now stolen 25 bases this season.

Welcome back, DH?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Cito Gaston’s dislike of Interleague play has been well documented this year. One reason is that he believes it’s unfair that American League teams are forced to have their pitchers hit in National League parks.

Needless to say, he’s looking forward to returning to the comforts of the Rogers Centre where his club will be able to re-deploy the DH. In speaking to reporters about Toronto’s recent road trip, Gaston said the following: “We’re happy, but we could have been 6-0, too. But we’ll take it and go home and get our DH back.”

Not so fast, Cito.

Based on recent numbers, getting the designated hitter back may not be as good for the Jays as Gaston makes it sound. After all, their regular DH is no longer Adam Lind.

When it was, the Jays were in good shape DH-wise. The 25-year-old Lind was either at or near the top in several offensive categories among designated hitters in the AL over the first month and a half of the season. In 38 games as the DH prior to Travis Snider’s demotion to Triple-A, Lind batted .315 (47-for-149) with 13 doubles, 24 runs scored, seven home runs and 34 RBIs.

Once Snider was demoted on May 22, however, Lind was moved to left field, meaning that Kevin Millar has seen more action in the DH spot than Lind. The results haven’t been pretty.

The Jays have played 18 games since May 22 in which a designated hitter was required. Lind manned the position in seven of those games, hitting just .192 (5-for-26) with a homer and two RBIs (perhaps he’s been thrown off too?) In the other 11 games, Millar has posted a .139 (5-for-36) batting average, six runs scored, a home run and two RBIs while hitting as low as eighth in the order on multiple occasions.

Sure, getting the DH back in Toronto should be an advantage for the Blue Jays. But not with those numbers. If J.P. Ricciardi is looking at improving his ball club over the next several weeks, here’s hoping he’s targeting the DH spot as his first priority.

Welcome back, Russ

Sunday, June 21, 2009

For the first time since signing David Dellucci to a minor-league deal, the Blue Jays summoned a player from Triple-A Las Vegas prior to Sunday’s 9-4 win over the Washington Nationals. But it wasn’t the 35-year-old veteran outfielder.

Instead, the Jays called up Russ Adams to replace utilityman Joe Inglett, who was optioned back to Triple-A after hitting just .167 (4-for-24) in 15 games with the big club. Adams is expected to fill the same utility role (playing both the infield and outfield) since he’s played a lot of outfield since his last appearance in the majors in 2007.

Though he lost six weeks to a broken hand earlier in the year, Adams batted .319 (23-for-72) in 24 games for Las Vegas this season. He also hit .333 with runners in scoring position and .526 (10-for-19) versus left-handed pitching.

Cito Gaston didn’t waste any time getting Adams some action – the left-handed hitter pinch hit for starter Ricky Romero on Sunday and singled for his first big league hit since 2007. 

“Here I am,” Adams told MLB.com. “I’ve got an opportunity to help the ballclub in any way I can, and I’m prepared for it.”

Meanwhile, outfielder Buck Coats is likely not too pleased with the move. After all, the 27-year-old has done enough to earn his own call up. In 66 games with Triple-A Las Vegas, Coats has hit .325 (91-for-280) with 20 doubles, 33 RBIs and 22 stolen bases. His 91 hits are tied for second-most in the PCL.